We’ve been waiting more than 18 months for the latest Ford Fiesta ST in Australia.
The car it replaces was universally liked, with a lively chassis and punchy turbo engine, so there’s plenty of pressure on the replacement.
The door count has grown from three to five, the cylinder count has dropped from four to three, and the price has leapt north of $30,000 before on-road costs – but Ford says the 2020 Fiesta ST is even better than its vaunted predecessor.
Say hello to one of the most hotly-anticipated cars of 2020. And rejoice, because it’s every bit as good as we hoped.
The little Fiesta packs a properly grown-up price. Take a deep breath, you’re up for $31,990 before on-road costs.
That makes the new Ford Fiesta ST a not-insignificant $4500 more than the model it replaces, although it’s on par with what you pay for the equally small Volkswagen Polo GTI.
There are two options: a sunroof ($2500) and metallic paint ($650).
Ford has thrown everything it has at the Fiesta ST to justify its steeper sticker price.
In Europe, you pay extra for a performance pack with a mechanical limited-slip differential, 18-inch alloy wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, launch control, and the choice of three drive modes.
In Australia it’s standard.
LED headlights with LED daytime running lights and auto-dipping halogen high-beam, power-folding mirrors, and keyless entry/start are all standard as well, along with niceties like heated seats and a heated steering wheel.
An 8.0-inch touchscreen sits proud of the dashboard running Ford Sync 3 and featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, feeding a 10-speaker sound system.
Snug and comfortable
The driver and passenger sit in Recaro bucket seats.
Autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert are standard, along with a reversing camera and parking sensors.
The 2020 Fiesta ST has not been tested by ANCAP, but the regular Fiesta range was awarded five stars by Euro NCAP in 2017.
The full suite of semi-autonomous safety assists listed above, along with the standard six airbags, along with the fact it shares its structure with a five-star car, mean the ST would likely score five stars if tested.
Ford has given the Fiesta a total makeover inside, and it’s absolutely for the better.
Gone is the button-festooned console of the outgoing Fiesta, replaced with a clean design dominated by an 8.0-inch touchscreen.
The driver is faced with simple analogue dials and a coloured trip computer capable of showing speed, fuel economy, and a unique Ford Performance display.
The old-fashioned clocks can’t match the Polo GTI’s excellent Active Info Display for sheer wow factor, but there’s no questioning the fact they’re crystal clear.
All the fundamentals are excellent. The seats are set (just) low enough, the chubby leather steering wheel is a perfect size, and the pedals are perfectly spaced.
Although there are some hard plastics scattered around, the cabin feels well screwed together and everything you touch is high quality.
The leather on the wheel is soft, the metal on the gear knob is cold to the touch, and the central armrest doesn’t batter your elbow on bumpy roads.
Ford knows how to do a great set of seats. The pews in the Fiesta are comfortable on long drives, and their base doesn’t attack you when you get into the car, making them more than bearable for day-to-day duty.
The fact they’re heated is a bonus on frosty mornings.
With firmly-padded bolsters that are always gently squeezing your ribcage, though, there is more than enough support to keep you in place when the red mist inevitably descends.
Is there anything more reassuring than a hug from the folks at Recaro in tough times?
At more than two metres tall, my lanky frame isn’t exactly designed for city-sized superminis. Although there isn’t an abundance of room, the Fiesta ST has enough space for even me. Chances are you’ll be able to get comfortable as well.
Some will lament the loss of the sexier three-door silhouette for 2020, but the Fiesta going five-door is a real win for back seat passengers.
With that said, the extra doors don’t change the fact this is a supermini. Kids and smaller adults will be okay in the back, but it isn’t a welcoming space for anyone approaching fully grown.
The same caveat applies to its rivals, of course, and given the choice of sitting in the back of a FiST and a Subaru BRZ the former is absolutely preferable.
Boot space has jumped to 311L for 2020, expanding to more than 1000L with the rear seats folded.
One Angry Small Car
With an aggressive grille, big alloys, and a twin exhaust, this is definitely not a normal Fiesta.
Nothing is safe from downsizing in 2020, not even performance cars.
Where the previous Fiesta ST packed a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, the new one relies on a 1.5-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost turbo unit.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the Fiesta has gone soft though. The new engine might be small, but it is mighty.
Peak power is 147kW (up 13kW) and peak torque is 290Nm (up 50Nm), good for a 100km/h sprint time of 6.5 seconds.
The only gearbox on offer is a slick-shifting six-speed manual. Forget pleasing the masses, this is a car for the enthusiasts.
We saw fuel economy of 7.4L/100km during a week of mixed driving, and closer to 5.0L/100km on a pure highway run. Impressive from such a punchy engine.
We won’t bother trying to string you along here. The 2020 Ford Fiesta ST is an absolute cracker.
It does all the boring stuff well. The engine is tractable, happily pulling from below 2000rpm in third and fourth gear. Lazy drivers aren’t likely to buy the Fiesta anyway, given there’s no dual-clutch option, but this isn’t an old-fashioned screamer that needs to be thrashed to feel alive.
None of the three drive modes changes the suspension tune, but it’s well judged in the city. You’re always aware the Fiesta ST is taut, but it never feels harsh.
The payoff for the taut ride is brilliant handling when the road opens up. Put simply, Ford has another winner on its hands.
The nose goes where you want it, no matter how hard you push, so you can lean on the meaty steering and fling it into corners with reckless abandon – the Fiesta just hangs on gamely.
There are options once on the way out, too. Bury the right-hand pedal and the differential (not to mention the Michelin rubber) hauls you onto the next straight, where the little hatch surges along on a wave of turbo three-pot torque.
Back gently off the accelerator and the nose tucks in, lift sharply and the rear comes more aggressively into play. Every corner gives you options, and it all feels organic despite the cleverness going on under the skin.
Along with the mechanical limited-slip differential shuffling power to the wheel with the most grip, the Fiesta packs a brake-based torque vectoring system that nibbles away at the inside wheels to keep the car from drifting wide.
There are also three drive modes to flick through: Normal, Sport and Track.
The middle setting is best for hard road driving, with a sharper throttle and heftier steering. Track Mode relaxes the stability control, which is rarely clever on the public road.
No corner has been left un-fettled by the Ford Performance team in Lommel. The official literature is awash with terms like ‘twin-tube damper’ and ‘force-vectoring springs’.
There’s real-world sophistication to match the engineering speak. The Fiesta ST absorbs awkward hits and settles quickly, breathing with the road rather than trying to batter it into submission, inspiring huge confidence in the process.
All the electronic and mechanical performance goodies combine to deliver a playful hatch, one that moves around underneath you without ever feeling scary. Approachable fun is the name of the game here.
Despite its tiny displacement, the new three-cylinder engine is more than up to the task. With torque aplenty, the punch on offer in third gear is more than enough for most Australian b-roads, but its appetite for revs means you’ll find yourself slipping back to second just for the fun of it.
The engine pumps out an offbeat, thrumming three-cylinder burble backed by pops and cracks in Sport Mode. It’s a smile-inducing soundtrack, and imbues the Fiesta with a unique character.
Gratuitous downshifts are also an opportunity to rev match with the well-placed pedals. Coupled with a gear shift that is oily and slick, the Fiesta ST shows there’s plenty of life in three-pedal sports cars.
The best thing, though, is when the thrashing is over and it’s time to go home, you can just slot the FiST into sixth, set the cruise control to 100km/h, and relax. Although a hint of road roar from the low-profile Michelins sneaks in, the engine is smooth and quiet at a cruise, and the stereo packs a punch.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI is still the most grown-up baby hot hatch around, but the Fiesta has manners of its own.
Gripes? The seat bases are a bit short, and the grabby upper bolsters never fade away if you’re broad-backed. Numb bum starts to set in after a couple of hours behind the wheel. Oh, and the gear stick sits a bit lower than we’d like.
The first four services for the Fiesta ST cost $299 under the Ford Service Benefits capped-price plan.
Although you don’t need to feed in the most expensive 98 RON unleaded, the car demands 95 RON.
We came into this review with high expectations. The Fiesta ST meets them all.
There’s no question it’s expensive – more than $30,000 before on-roads, or close to $35,000 drive-away, is a lot for such a small hatchback.
The VW Polo GTI is more grown up, and you can have a larger (and slower) Hyundai i30 N-Line for similar cash.
Keen drivers will want the Fiesta, though. I want the Fiesta – Metallic Magnetic Grey paint, no sunroof please.
The world is a bit crazy at the moment, and on a quiet Friday night it finally became too much. A three-hour blast in Fiesta, exploring the deserted hills outside Melbourne, was the solution.
My head was tied in knots walking out the front door. It was totally empty by the first corner, and a big grin was plastered across my face. The FiST is that sort of car.